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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem police announced Wednesday that they are barring a planned gay protest in a central city park out of concern that it could spill into violent clashes, but organizers vowed to go ahead with the move, setting the stage for a violent showdown in the city.
The demonstration, which was to have taken place Thursday evening near the city's Liberty Bell Park, was in itself planned as a form of protest against a previous police decision to ban an international gay pride parade that was scheduled to take place that day in the city.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said that the police decision to bar the protest was made after the local Jerusalem organizers of the six-day international "World Pride" event would not commit to limiting the demonstration in number, or assuring police that it would not spill out beyond its allotted space, and block major city thoroughfares.
He stressed that while police are committed to freedom of expression, they also have the right, by law, to condition such public gatherings in order to prevent a "serious violation of public order," which such an event could cause.
The head of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian center vowed Wednesday, despite the police veto, to hold the protest as scheduled Thursday evening.
"There is no legal basis to the police decision as such an event, which is not a demonstration, does not require a license," said Hagai El-Ad, the executive-director of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian center which is hosting the event.
The prerogative for issuing permits for such public events rests with police.
By law, police can in fact condition such events, the Jerusalem police spokesman said.
The move represents the latest stinging defeat for Jerusalem's small gay and lesbian community, and came just weeks after police banned a major international gay parade in the city, which was to have been the highlight of the six-day event.
The contested parade, which was to have been the highlight of a week-long international gay festival in the capital, was nixed after police said they were unable to allocate sufficient forces needed to secure such a major event due to the current security situation in the country.
The international gay festival, which was originally scheduled to take place last year and had already been postponed until August due to last summer's Gaza pullout, has been widely criticized by a coterie of Jewish Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem and around the world as a deliberate affront and provocation to millions of believers around the world.
Supporters of the event countered that freedom of speech enables them to hold the event in Jerusalem, as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism.
In a largely conservative city, with a strong religious and traditional makeup, the idea of holding such an international parade in Jerusalem is seen by many city residents -- even outside of religious circles -- as out of touch with both the spiritual character of the city as well as the sensitivities of its observant residents.
A public opinion poll released last year found that three-quarters of Jerusalem residents were opposed to holding the international gay event in the city, while only a quarter supported it.
The last international gay parade, which took place in Rome in 2000 despite the wrath of the Vatican, attracted about half a million participants.
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